190 B- POLEVOI
Alexei felt troubled for the rest of the day. He even
missed his evening walking exercise and turned in before
everybody else; but the springs of his mattress twanged
long'after the rest of the patients had fallen asleep.
Next morning, before the nurse was barely in the
room, he asked her whether there were any letters for
him. There were no letters. He washed and ate his
breakfast listlessly, but he took a longer spell of walking
exercise than usual; to punish himself for the weakness
he had shown the previous evening he did fifteen extra
laps to make up for the exercise he had missed. This
unexpected achievement caused him to forget his anxiety.
He had proved that he could move freely on his crutches
without growing too tired. The corridor was fifty metres
long. Multiplied by forty-five, the number of times he
had walked up and down, that made two thousand two
hundred and fifty metres, or two and a quarter kilome-
tres, the distance from the officers' mess to the airfield.
He mentally went over that familiar track that led past
the ruins of the old village church, past the brick block
of the gutted school which gazed mournfully at the road
out of the hollow sockets of its paneless windows, through
the wood where the fuel trucks covered with fir branches
were hidden, past the commander's dugout, and past the
little wooden hut where, poring over maps and charts,
the "meteorological sergeant" performed her rites. A
good stretch! By heaven, quite a good stretch!
Meresyev decided to increase the daily exercises to
forty-six laps, twenty-three in the morning and twenty-
three in the evening, and to try next morning, when he
was fresh after the night's rest, to walk without crutches.
This at once diverted his mind from his gloomy thoughts,
raised his spirits and put him in a practical frame of
mind. In the evening, he commenced his exercise with
such enthusiasm that before he was aware of it he had
done over thirty laps. Just at this moment he was inter-
rupted by the appearance of the cloak-room attendant
with a letter. The letter was for him. The small envelope
was addressed: "Senior Lieutenant Meresyev. Strictly
confidential." The word "strictly" was underlined, and
Alexei did not like the look of that. The letter inside was
also marked "strictly confidential" and also underlined.